Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) leaves the court after losing to the San Antonio Spurs in game one of the Western Conference Finals in the 2014 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center. The Spurs won 122-105.
Soobum Im/Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
When it comes to talking about the great undoing of Oklahoma City this Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the conceptual bedrock will come down to Serge Ibaka.
The Thunder didn’t have him and they couldn’t stop the Spurs.
True and true.
Nothing’s gonna change the rest of this series as far as that goes if OKC coach Scott Brooks doesn’t go back to the lab and do some more experimenting â not with lineups, but with attitude – because this business of the Thunder not standing in front of anyone wearing the San Antonio black and silver wasn’t really a formula worth trying again.
It’s 1-0 Spurs after a 122-105 victory and the Thunder will be scrambling to make up what looks to be a mountain of a loss with the absence of Ibaka.
It can be done, yes, but not with the combinations previously unseen by the human eye that Brooks experimented with on Monday.
He reached and hoped. Some of it worked, most of it didnât.
The lineup that was so successful in the second half of the Game 6 win against the Clippers last week went unused. The "big" lineup Brooks featured for a short time Monday, wasn’t used enough.
Curious moments, indeed as the Spurs faced little resistance in the paint, scoring 66 points. Overall, San Antonio shot 57.5 percent. The Spurs made 9-of-17 3-pointers and got the kind of performance San Antonio gets on regular occasion â five players scoring in double figures.
And now all the stock in the fact OKC had rallied past the Spurs in the Western Finals two seasons ago has bottomed out. There was no basis for feeling good about the Thunder’s 4-0 record against San Antonio this season, either. Not without Ibaka. Not without anyone else deciding to play with an attitude on the defensive end.
"We got to move past that," Kevin Durant said of Ibaka’s injury. "He’s a big part of what we do. Of course, we’re going to miss his presence. Look, Serge is not going to be here. We have to just keep playing as a team."
But the song remains the same. Now and forever. The Thunder defense isn’t sustainable enough to win games on its own. It’s not consistent enough to do it for four quarters. It’s not good enough to count on. And it doesn’t really matter who they put on the court.
The Thunder got 105 points, and that’s enough. Allowing 122 is too hard to overcome, particularly to a team well-marinated in playoff success like San Antonio is.
"We scored enough points," Brooks said. "We have to do a better job defensively. We have to play better. They scored 122 points. We have to do a much better job of stopping them."
Brooks didn’t find a lineup that worked for any real amount of time and the Thunder didn’t get good minutes from Steven Adams and Nick Collison, the two players who the Thunder rode to the Game 6 win last Thursday.
Adams, for as good as he was in Game 6 â 11 rebounds, 10 points in 40 minutes â is still just a raw rookie. Adams had four points and two rebounds in 17 minutes. Collison managed just three rebounds and no points in 16 minutes.
"We’re a no-excue team," Brooks said. "Serge is out. He’s not coming back. We have to play better. We have to regroup and it’s not about who we have or who we don’t have. It’s about we have to play better as a group."
Brooks has been consistent all season. He always talks defense first. He’s also right about the fact the Thunder don’t need to worry about who they have or don’t have. It doesn’t really matter, because if no one shows any interest in defense, the wins aren’t going to happen and the San Antonio layups will just multiply.
"We have to do a better job of closing the paint off," Russell Westbrook said. "We’ll look at the film and get ready for Game 2."
Sure, it would probably make sense for the Thunder to go a bit bigger in Game 2. That was the combination which worked best Monday, but big or small or somewhere in between won’t really matter if Brooks can’t figure out a way to get the Thunder to play harder on defense. Play inspired. Show some life.
That’s the only way this team can overcome the loss of Ibaka.